Saturday, March 27, 2021

Judge deflates windbag

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Return to Normal?

Political Cartoon U.S. mitch mcconnell gun reform
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Joe Heller  Copyright 2021
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Joe Heller  Copyright 2021
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Sunday, March 21, 2021

Photos from history.

Warning: Some photos are grim.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Did Marjorie Taylor Greene Refer to Guam as a Foreign Country? |

You gotta love CPAC. There's no bigger collection of right-wing dumbos and Trumpists. And in case you missed it, Marjorie Taylor Green is a Q-Anon repeater. And yes, she actually called Guam a foreign country.

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Friday, March 12, 2021

Famous museums around the world offering virtual tours

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Thursday, March 11, 2021

Hackers breach thousands of security cameras, exposing Tesla, jails, hospitals

Big Brother is watching, but who's looking over Big Brother's shoulder?


Hackers of Silicon Valley startup access thousands of security cameras, exposing Tesla, jails, hospitals


By William Turton | Bloomberg

A group of hackers say they breached a massive trove of security-camera data collected by Silicon Valley startup Verkada Inc., gaining access to live feeds of 150,000 surveillance cameras inside hospitals, companies, police departments, prisons and schools.

Companies whose footage was exposed include carmaker Tesla Inc. and software provider Cloudflare Inc. In addition, hackers were able to view video from inside women's health clinics, psychiatric hospitals and the offices of Verkada itself. Some of the cameras, including in hospitals, use facial-recognition technology to identify and categorize people captured on the footage. The hackers say they also have access to the full video archive of all Verkada customers.

In a video seen by Bloomberg, a Verkada camera inside Florida hospital Halifax Health showed what appeared to be eight hospital staffers tackling a man and pinning him to a bed. Halifax Health is featured on Verkada's public-facing website in a case study entitled: "How a Florida Healthcare Provider Easily Updated and Deployed a Scalable HIPAA Compliant Security System."

Another video, shot inside a Tesla warehouse in Shanghai, shows workers on an assembly line. The hackers said they obtained access to 222 cameras in Tesla factories and warehouses.

The data breach was carried out by an international hacker collective and intended to show the

pervasiveness of video surveillance and the ease with which systems could be broken into, said Tillie Kottmann, one of the hackers who claimed credit for breaching San Mateo, California-based Verkada. Kottmann, who uses they/them pronouns, previously claimed credit for hacking chipmaker Intel Corp. and carmaker Nissan Motor Co. Kottmann said their reasons for hacking are "lots of curiosity, fighting for freedom of information and against intellectual property, a huge dose of anti-capitalism, a hint of anarchism — and it's also just too much fun not to do it."

"We have disabled all internal administrator accounts to prevent any unauthorized access," a Verkada spokesperson said in a statement. "Our internal security team and external security firm are investigating the scale and scope of this issue, and we have notified law enforcement."

A person with knowledge of the matter said Verkada's chief information security officer, an internal team and an external security firm are investigating the incident. The company is working to notify customers and set up a support line to address questions, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

"This afternoon we were alerted that the Verkada security camera system that monitors main entry points and main thoroughfares in a handful of Cloudflare offices may have been compromised," San Francisco-based Cloudflare said in a statement. "The cameras were located in a handful of offices that have been officially closed for several months." The company said it disabled the cameras and disconnected them from office networks.

Tesla said that, "based on our current understanding, the cameras being hacked are only installed in one of our suppliers, and the product is not being used by our Shanghai factory, or any of our Tesla stores or services centers. Our data collected from Shanghai factories and other places mentioned are stored on local servers."

Other companies identified in this story didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Representatives of the jails, hospitals and schools named in this article either declined to comment or didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

A video seen by Bloomberg shows officers in a police station in Stoughton, Wisconsin, questioning a man in handcuffs. Sgt. Andrew Johnson, an official in Stoughton, confirmed to Bloomberg News that the department uses Verkada cameras. The hackers say they also gained access to the security cameras of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed more than 20 people in 2012.

Also available to the hackers were 330 security cameras inside the Madison County Jail in Huntsville, Alabama. Verkada offers a feature called "People Analytics," which lets a customer "search and filter based on many different attrib

utes, including gender traits, clothing color, and even a person's face," according to a Verkada blog post. Images seen by Bloomberg show that the cameras inside the jail, some of which are hidden inside vents, thermostats and defibrillators, track inmates and correctional staff using the facial-recognition technology. The hackers say they were able to access live feeds and archived video, in some cases including audio, of interviews between police officers and criminal suspects, all in the high-definition resolution known as 4K.

Kottmann said their group was able to obtain "root" access on the cameras, meaning they could use the cameras to execute their own code. That access could, in some instances, allow them to pivot and obtain access to the broader corporate network of Verkada's customers, or hijack the cameras and use them as a platform to launch future hacks. Obtaining this degree of access to the camera didn't require any additional hacking, as it was a built-in feature, Kottmann said.

The hackers' methods were unsophisticated: they gained access to Verkada through a "Super Admin" account, allowing them to peer into the cameras of all of its customers. Kottmann says they found a user name and password for an administrator account publicly exposed on the internet. After Bloomberg contacted Verkada, the hackers lost access to the video feeds and archives, Kottmann said.

The hackers say they were able to peer into multiple locations of the luxury gym chain Equinox. At Wadley Regional Medical Center, a hospital in Texarkana, Texas, hackers say they looked through Verkada cameras pointed at nine ICU beds. Hackers also say they watched cameras at Tempe St. Luke's Hospital, in Arizona, and were also able to see a detailed record of who used Verkada access control cards to open certain doors, and when they did so. A representative of Wadley declined to comment.

The hack "exposes just how broadly we're being surveilled, and how little care is put into at least securing the platforms used to do so, pursuing nothing but profit," Kottmann said. "It's just wild how I can just see the things we always knew are happening, but we never got to see." Kottman said they gained access to Verkada's system on Monday morning.

Verkada, founded in 2016, sells security cameras that customers can access and manage through the web. In January 2020, it raised $80 million in venture capital funding, valuing the company at $1.6 billion. Among the investors was Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley's oldest firms.

Kottmann calls the hacking collective "Advanced Persistent Threat 69420," a light-hearted reference to the designations cybersecurity firms give to state sponsored hacking groups and criminal cybergangs.

In October 2020, Verkada fired three employees after reports surfaced that workers had used its cameras to take pictures of female colleagues inside the Verkada office and make sexually explicit jokes about them. Verkada CEO Filip Kaliszan said in a statement to Vice at the time that the company "terminated the three individuals who instigated this incident, engaged in egregious behavior targeting coworkers, or neglected to report the behavior despite their obligations as managers."

Jails, Homes, Offices

Kottmann said they were able to download the entire list of thousands of Verkada customers, as well as the company's balance sheet, which lists assets and liabilities. As a closely held company, Verkada does not publish its financial statements. Kottman said hackers watched through the camera of a Verkada employee who had set one of the cameras up inside his home. One of the saved clips from the camera shows the employee completing a puzzle with his family.

"If you are a company who has purchased this network of cameras and you are putting them in sensitive places, you may not have the expectation that in addition to being watched by your security team that there is some admin at the camera company who is also watching," said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who was briefed on the breach by Bloomberg.

Inside Arizona's Graham County detention facility, which has 17 cameras, videos are given titles by the center's staff and saved to a Verkada account. One video, filmed in the "Commons Area," is titled "ROUNDHOUSE KICK OOPSIE." A video filed inside the "Rear Cell Block" is called "SELLERS SNIFFING/KISSING WILLARD???" Another video, filmed inside "Drunk Tank Exterior" is titled "AUTUMN BUMPS HIS OWN HEAD." Two videos filmed from "Back Cell" are titled "STARE OFF – DONT BLINK!" and "LANCASTER LOSES BLANKET."

The hackers also obtained access to Verkada cameras in Cloudflare offices in San Francisco, Austin, London and New York. The cameras at Cloudflare's headquarters rely on facial recognition, according to images seen by Bloomberg. "While facial recognition is a beta feature that Verkada makes available to its customers, we have never actively used it nor do we plan to," Cloudflare said in its statement.

Security cameras and facial-recognition technology are often used inside corporate offices and factories to protect proprietary information and guard against an insider threat, said the EFF's Galperin.

"There are many legitimate reasons to have surveillance inside of a company," Galperin added. "The most important part is to have the informed consent of your employees. Usually this is done inside the employee handbook, which no one reads."

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Lost Stars From the Early Universe Still Waiting to Be Found | Discover Magazine

The Lost Stars From the Early Universe Still Waiting to Be Found

The earliest stars were different than the ones we see in the sky today. That's what makes them so hard to find.

By Emma ChapmanMarch 6, 2021 8:00 AM
mainimage seethelight
(Credit: Terri Field)

This article appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Discover magazine as "Seeking Lost Light." For more stories like this, become a subscriber.

I never wanted to be an astrophysicist. While a lot of my colleagues were looking through amateur telescopes, I was dreaming of decoding hieroglyphics and brushing off hidden artifacts in newly discovered Ancient Egyptian tombs.

As is the case with most young Egyptophiles, for me there was one story that captured the excitement of Ancient Egyptian discoveries more than any other: the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. In November 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter held up a candle and peered through a small drill hole in the tomb door. His patron, Lord Carnarvon, asked him if he could see anything, to which Carter, struck dumb with amazement, could only reply, "Yes, wonderful things, wonderful things!" He recounted later that, in the dim candlelight, "details of the room emerged slowly from the mist ... strange animals, statues and gold — everywhere, the glint of gold."

The unveiling of Tutankhamun's final resting place was exceptional because of how rare an occurrence it was. Most times when a tomb was "discovered," grave robbers had found it first, sometimes thousands of years before. Ancient Egyptians realized pretty quickly that if you mark the spot where you buried the treasure with a gigantic pyramid, the treasure would not remain buried for long. They began to secrete their kings, queens and the accompanying treasure underground, but even that wasn't enough to keep their treasures safe, making Tutankhamun a rare exception.

It might seem strange, but the search for ancient tombs is comparable to our search for the first stars. The universe has changed so much since those first stars were laid to rest. The pristine environments in which they formed were raided, polluted by interloping young stars and their messy supernovae, leaving little scope for undiscovered stellar tombs.

Population III stars, as these first stars are known, were ancient beasts of mammoth proportion, up to several hundred times the mass of our sun. They lived fast, with lifetimes of only a few million years compared to the 10-billion-year lifetimes of less massive stars such as our sun. The same diversity of lifetimes in anthropology would be equivalent to finding an early humanoid species that aged and died only three days after birth. And yet, in such short lifetimes, those stars are the ones most responsible for changing the universe. As they roared to life, they illuminated the universe, irradiating it and seeding it with metals that could then form stars, planets and us.

To date, astronomers still haven't located a Population III star. So, where are they? The limitations of our tools, as well as pollution in the galaxy, has made the search for these ancient artifacts difficult. But some promising finds have been made in recent years — pointing us to the descendants of Population III stars, and one day, hopefully, to the origins themselves.

Metal in the Sky

The search shouldn't be so hard. After all, the glint of starlight is hard to miss and we certainly aren't short of places to search in the Milky Way. The prevalence of stars presents a problem, though, and searching for a Population III star among billions in the Milky Way is like searching for genuine Ancient Egyptian artifacts at a jumble sale in Texas. You might get lucky — but you'll probably end up walking away dejected, wearing a battered, second-hand cowboy hat.

To the human eye, a star born 13 billion years ago looks much the same as a star of similar mass born 4 billion years ago. But for astrophysicists, it's important to determine a star's metal content, since the first stars were free of metal. We assess the metal content by measuring what fraction of the star comprises a particular metal based on the strength of the metal absorption lines in the spectrum and comparing that fraction to the same quantity in the sun. An iron-poor star is composed of a lower fraction of iron than the sun, even if the star is very large and has a larger amount of iron in terms of mass or atoms.

see the light telescopes
(Credit: Terri Field)

There are lots of metals to choose from, but iron produces strong absorption lines, which are most easily measured by optical telescopes, and it turns out that iron is a good indicator of overall metallicity, too. Generally, if a star comprises a smaller fraction, or abundance, of iron than the sun, then we call it metal-poor, and anything with a larger fraction of iron is called metal-rich.

The stars we see around us are metal-rich because they formed from gas already seeded with metals by previous supernovae. Stars forming today typically have an overall metal content of about 2 percent by mass; only 2 percent, yet we call them metal-rich! It's worth remembering that hydrogen will always be the main dish in a star, by far. The difference between a Population III star and a star today is merely garnish, yet it makes all the difference.

As we search for older and older generations of stars, the already low metal content decreases until we are dealing with extremely low metal fractions that require accompanying superlative labels. In fact, stellar archaeologists rarely get out of bed for any star unless it has less than 1/10,000th the iron fraction of the sun: ultra-metal-poor stars.

A Hint of Iron

As of mid-2020, only a handful of stars have been observed with an iron abundance below 1/10,000th. Technical limitations with a telescope or interference from other stars introduce convincing forgeries into our spectral lines, and the analysis carried out by stellar archaeologists to understand and remove this contamination is vital work. 

The current record holder for the most iron-poor star where an iron measurement has been made is SMSS J1605-1443. Discovered in 2018, this mega metal-poor halo star has less than 1/1,000,000th the solar iron fraction. This is exceedingly low, so is this our Population III star? Unfortunately, no, the levels of other heavy metals present in the spectrum are too high for this star to have created them all by itself — it has to have had help from a previous supernova seeding the cloud it is made from with a starter kit of those metals. It's the equivalent of faking an Egyptian mummy almost perfectly, but leaving a smartwatch on its wrist.

The levels of iron detected in SMSS J1605-1443 were low, but they were definitely there. However, there is one star where no iron has been detected at all and only an upper limit could be placed: SM0313-6708, observed in 2012. High-resolution spectroscopy of SM0313-6708 in 2013 revealed ... nothing much at all. Instead of a forest of absorption lines, this star revealed almost no activity and the presence of only four metals: lithium, carbon, magnesium and calcium. Everywhere we should have seen a dip relating to the presence of iron, there was just a fat line, indicating an absence of iron. With our technology, we cannot be absolutely certain that there isn't a tiny dip hiding among the general noise of the signal. But we are sure that we are looking at a star at least 1/10,000,000th more iron-poor than the sun — and it could be far lower.

image3 seethelight
(Credit: Terri Field)

This sounds pretty promising. We found a star that appears to have a total absence of iron, so surely this is our Population III star? Well, unfortunately, it's another no. Only four metal elements may have been detected, but still the abundances found were large enough that they couldn't have been produced purely by nuclear fusion within a first star. However, it's agonizingly close. The metal levels detected in SM0313-6708 are so low that models show that it could have formed from a cloud enriched by just a single supernova. So, what we are looking at here is not a Population III star, but could well be a first descendent. Yet not all hope is lost.

A New Hope?

There is real hope that we will one day dig up a surviving Population III star. While the average Population III star is thought to have been tens to hundreds of times the mass of the sun, simulations show that a tail of low-mass stars was produced at the same time. The more massive a star, the shorter its life, so only stars 80 percent of the mass of the sun or less would still be around today. Spotting them isn't easy, but we think that the halo of the galaxy is a good place to look for them, because there is less contamination there by younger stars, and the older Population III stars will probably have meandered out of the disk and into the halo by now.

The progress in stellar archaeology has been significant: Scientists have dug down to metallicities of 1/1,000,000th of the sun's iron abundance, getting to the point where they are not detecting iron at all. As we develop more efficient technology to pick out the most promising candidate stars among the billions of options, the hope is that we will increase our sample size of metal-poor stars and draw more robust conclusions about the diversity of supernovae events that created them.

But no matter how hard we search for some artifacts, we just cannot hope to find much more. Thousands of years of wear and tear destroy most fabrics, food and wooden tools. If a population of low-mass stars exists today, it is likely to be polluted, hidden from view, and there is an open question about whether we can ever circumvent that further than we already have.

We may not have detected that very first star, the metal-free star, but we have detected what we think is the first descendent, the star that bridged the populations of metal-free and metal-poor stars. This is not a failure. While we would all love to meet Khufu and ask him how the Great Pyramid was built and where the treasures are buried, I'm sure we'd all settle for a chat with Cleopatra — though, saying that, one of my favorite facts about Ancient Egypt is that we are closer in time to Cleopatra than Cleopatra was to the pyramids. The future of stellar archaeology is far from over. It has just found its feet, and with the discovery of SM0313-6708, as we hold our candle up to the skies, we have seen the smallest glint of gold — or should I say iron?

Emma Chapman is an award-winning Royal Society Research Fellow in astrophysics, based at Imperial College London. She searches for the signals from the first stars using the largest radio telescopes in the world.

Copyright © Emma Chapman, 2/23/2021. This is an extract from First Light: Switching On Stars At the Dawn of Time, published by Bloomsbury Sigma on 2/23/2021 at $28.00.

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Monday, March 1, 2021

Fwd: Fwd: Keulenhof Gardens

The Most Beautiful Flower Garden In The World Has No Visitors For The First Time In 71 Years And I Got To Capture It 
As a real Dutchman, I am a big fan of our flowers. And as a landscape photographer, I enjoy our beautiful spring each year in which I always find time to photograph the flowers and show the beauty of the Dutch flowers to the whole world. Most of you probably know the world-famous Keukenhof, the most beautiful tulip garden in the world. Every year millions of tourists visit this garden. That's a huge lot considering the garden is only open in spring! Every year, a hard-working crew makes sure the garden looks as good as ever, including this year!
This year is 'special.' Keukenhof is closed, for the first time in 71 years. But that doesn't mean there are no flowers. On the contrary; the flowers look incredible and get as much attention and care as always. All the passionate gardeners do their work as they're used to. Because even without people, nature and the show of the garden goes on.
I've been photographing the tulips since forever, mostly in the countryside. I photographed them from all angles you can possibly imagine, but there was one thing that I still wanted to capture one time in my life: Keukenhof without any other people. This seemed impossible, until this year's April 2020. With the COVID-19 virus keeping everyone at home and tourists away, I knew this was my only chance of making this happen. I contacted Keukenhof explaining what I had in mind and they were so kind to let me photograph the garden for a day.
When I visited the park it looked at its best. Interestingly enough, we have experienced the sunniest April EVER in the Netherlands, making all the flowers pop very fast. Photographing in broad daylight with the strong sun was a challenge. But forget about the photography for a moment: walking around there all alone, with only the sounds of birds and the incredible smell of all these flowers, is an experience by itself. I sometimes just sat next to the flowers and the water, enjoying nature for 30 minutes long. It was just a magical experience. Having no people in the park allowed me to photograph paths and angles in a certain way that you normally don't get to see because of the crowds.
This photo series is an initiative from myself in collaboration with Keukenhof. We aim to show the beauty of the park through these images. Too bad there's no smell involved.
Albert Dros     
With no people around, these zig-zag paths become visible showing the attention to detail in the layout of the garden.
The famous Keukenhof windmill. The miller was so kind to move it to the correct position for pictures.
A rare species of tulips that I had not seen before.
The world-famous 'Blue River.' A road of blue grape hyacinths zigzagging through the trees.
In Keukenhof, you can find a bunch of classic Dutch bridges. This is one of them right at the entrance, surrounded by a sea of colorful tulips.
Did I mention the attention to detail? From the ground, I didn't even see this, but when I flew my drone a few meters up it appeared that these were planted in the shape of a tulip flower!
Seas of tulips around my favorite area of the park: the pool with the fountain in the middle.
Lines and lines of tulips, hyacinths, and narcissus flowers in between the trees.
I love to photograph dreamy portraits of flowers, and the Keukenhof is perfect for that with its many different kinds of flowers.
My favorite places in the Keukenhof are the pools. Seeing the water reflecting the trees and flowers gives such a calm feeling. If you look closely you can see a gardener do his work. Because even with no people visiting the garden, the work goes on.
In some parts of the park, you can find endless seas of different colored tulips that together make a beautiful abstract color palette.
The little paths make harmony with the trees and different flowers all around them.
An image of the white bridge near the entrance of the park showing the scale of a hill with thousands of tulips that can be seen in front of it.
A low angle perspective in the part of the park that I'd like to call 'cherry blossom garden' where you can find dozens of cherry blossoms combined with tulips. Did I mention the smell!?
A high key portrait of the Fritillaria Imperialis flower. One of my favorite flowers in the park.
Zigzag lines of flowers, water, and paths almost looks like these scenes are dancing.
Attention to great detail of lines and shapes in which the flowers are planted is the signature design of The Keukenhof. I love how they combine these flowers with beautiful trees. And they all blossom at the same time.
Dare to be different. A white tulip with a red leaf standing out in the lot, with a viewpoint on the tulip fields in the background.
A portrait image of grape hyacinth.
Real summer vibes with green trees, blue sky, and circular shapes of tulips. It's only spring, but this image already reminds me of summer.
I love how you can see these lines and shapes of tulips in the park.
Sun peeking through the trees in the afternoon, with the lines and paths of flowers making harmony with each other.
All the different flowers are perfect for doing macro images in the park.
One of my favorite little scenes in the park: a Japanese cherry blossom tree with a beautiful shape with a path through flowers leading up to it. It looks like a scene out of a fairytale.
My favorite area with part of the big pool on the right. Lines and shapes of tulips all pointing towards the middle.
It's in the details with these small patches of different colored hyacinth flowers carefully places on the grass between the trees.
The red and yellow carpet of tulips as seen from a drone perspective from about 10 meters up.
A portrait of an interesting breed of a narcissus flower.
I really couldn't get enough of these patches of different kinds of flowers with different colors along the paths and the trees everywhere in the park.
See-through along the walking bridges in the park with cherry blossoms on top.
Water reflecting the beauty of the trees and flowers.
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